Identifying the Patterns of Relationship Dependency

Identifying the Patterns of Relationship Dependency


Dr. Gregory Jantz


Dependent people are lonely and crave relationships because they do not like the person they are alone with—themselves. It was vital for you to understand that the key person in any relationship is you. It is also vital for you to begin to see the patterns of relationship dependency not only within each relationship but also as you move from one unhealthy relationship to another over and over again. Relationship dependency has an addictive cycle pattern.

An addictive cycle has certain established aspects, and relationship addiction is no different. For example, Melanie is an addict. She is addicted to relationships. In her mind, being in a romantic relationship is proof that she is loved. If Melanie is in a relationship, all she thinks about is how to remain in that relationship. If she is out of a relationship, all she thinks about is finding a new relationship. Through all of this, she remains perplexed at her inability to stay in a relationship.

When someone is addicted to relationships, they are desperate to discover another heart looking for love. This desperation leads to impulsive choices that often turn out poorly, prompting a repetitive cycle of relationship after relationship.

Within this addictive cycle, there have been eight distinct phases identified. They are listed below:

The Search Phase – While the search may be for a different person, it is important to note that the search is not for a different relationship. Those dependent on relationships tend to substitute one unhealthy or unfulfilling relationship for another, which does not result in better outcomes, thus causing the cycle to repeat.

The Attraction Phase – For a dependent person outside of a relationship, the stress is overwhelming. However, once a potential relationship has been found, the dependent person may engage in a compelling fantasy, creating an image of what the relationship will be like with the other person. At this point, the dependent person may not see the other person with their eyes as much as project an image of who they want the other person to be within their heart.

The Relief Phase – The start of a new relationship should bring a variety of experiences to both parties, but for a dependent person, the primary initial experience is one of relief. This is relief from the panic and anxiety felt when they are not in a relation. Finding a new relationship is like coming up for air.

The Anxiety Phase – The relief phase can be marked by euphoria. Inevitably, all highs begin to break down. This breakdown occurs when the other person does not act in accordance with the pre-established mental template.   The foundations of the relationship begin to shake, producing fear and anxiety.

The Denial Phase – There comes a point in a relationship when the honeymoon is over and best behavior is replaced by just-the-way-I-am attitudes. As the fog of fantasy evaporates in the heat of everyday living, glimpses can emerge of a harsher relational landscape. Glimpsing this truth can be terrifying to the dependent person, who in response will cling even more vehemently to the fantasy of the relationship.

The Escalation Phase – The dependent person will give up whatever is necessary—other relationships, money, time, personal preferences, and goals—to maintain the relationship. This is the phase when the dependent person may feel incredible pressure to shore up the shaky relationship by hemming in and attempting to contain the other person. Caught in the instability, the dependent person may begin to escalate their behavior in an attempt to bring the deteriorating relationship back to the everything-is-fine relief phase.

The Switching Phase – Once the relationship is clearly in danger of ending, the dependent person may step out of the submissive, what-do-you-want mode and propel into an aggressive, you-owe-me mode in a last-ditch attempt to maintain the relationship. If effort and sacrifice are not enough to maintain the relationship, they will switch to guilt and obligation.

The Withdrawal Phase – Because their sense of self is tied to the relationship, when it ends, the dependent person is lost, alone, and vulnerable. When the relationship ends, there is no consuming distraction to deflect the intense pain and sense of devastation at the loss. The dependent person may enter into a period of withdrawal and depression.

Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE  and author of 30 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depressionanxiety and others.